Second Crusade

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The Second Crusade (1145-1149) was launched in 1145 in response to the fall of the County of Edessa to the Muslim leader Zengi a year earlier. It was the first crusade led by prominent European monarchs rather than by lesser lords and established a trend for later Crusades. Originally intended as a reinforcement of the Crusader States, the Crusade spawned separate actions in Iberia and northern Europe; although these are sometimes considered part of the Second Crusade, they were distinct campaigns.

Calling the Crusade

The primary focus of the Second Crusade was in the Holy Land. The first of the Crusader States, the County of Edessa, was conquered after a siege by Zengi, Atabeg of Mosul. The Count of Edessa, Joscelin II, was dispossessed of almost all his domain, except for the fortress of Turbessel on the Euphrates, his subjects (mostly Armenian Christians sold into slavery, and the valuable felt trade of the region (essential to making gambesons) were now in the hands of the Muslims. Worse, the Crusader States were now open to invasion from the east.

Queen Melisende of Jerusalem called for help, and Pope Eugene III obligingly issued the papal bull now known as the Quantum praedecessores from the first words of the bull: Quantum praedecessores nostri Romani pontifices pro liberatione Orientalis Ecclesiae laboraverunt, antiquorum relatione didicimus, et in gestis eorum scriptum reperimus. – in English, "How much our predecessors the Roman pontiffs did labour for the deliverance of the oriental church, we have learned from the accounts of the ancients and have found it written in their acts."

Likewise, Raymond of Poitiers, Prince of Antioch sent a separate plea for assistance to his niece, Eleanor of Aquitaine, who was Queen of France and Duchess of Aquitaine. She chose to accompany her husband Louis VII on the crusade, along with the flower of the French nobility.

Remembering the successful preaching of Urban II which triggered the First Crusade, Eugene III, a clever man but no orator himself, sent Archbishop Bernard of Clairvaux to preach to the nobility of France and Germany at a council in Vezelay. There, in a carefully planned event, he preached the Crusade and triggered a furor -- so much so that the cloth crosses he had prepared to hand out fell short of demand, and he ripped his own cloak to pieces to provide more.

Indeed, the response from Christendom was immediate and, like the First Crusade, overwhelming. Unfortunately none of the lessons of the First Crusade or the ill-fated Crusade of the Faint-Hearted which followed it were taken to heart by the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the original Crusaders.

The Germans

Led by Conrad III of Germany, and his nephew Frederick Barbarossa, a force of some 20,000 men marched across Europe in 1147, aiming to meet up with the smaller French force at Constantinople. Unfortunately, no one had informed the Byzantine Emperor, Manuel I Comnenus, who learned of the approaching army with some trepidation. Although the German force passed through Hungary without incident, once in Byzantine territory the army began to loot and steal what they wanted. Although Conrad himself acknowledged that his troops were out of control, when Manuel politely suggested heading directly to Asia Minor rather than tarrying in Constantinople. Conrad ignored the suggestion and moved into one of the emperor's minor palaces, which was so ill-used that he was obliged to vacate the unlivable wreckage within a week.

Although they waited long enough for the French force to come near, the Germans were ferried across the Bosporus and headed inland without French reinforcement. Ignoring the good advice that they should keep close to the coastline (where Manuel could resupply the army by sea), the Germans marched inland in October of 1147 on the direct route to Dorylaeum, scene of a battle of the First Crusade.

With few supplies and little water, the German force quickly faced great hardship, and when a stream at Dorylaeum was found the army's discipline (never of the best) disintegrated into a near-riot as the Crusaders scrambled for water. Seeing their chance, a large Turkish force waiting in ambush swept down on the rabble without warning and the result was an appalling massacre. Conrad had escaped alive (albeit wounded) along with Frederick Barbarossa, most of the other leading lords of the German force were left on the field; a bare handful of Germans fought their way free of the slaughter, only to have to retrace their parched and hungry march back to the coast to join the French. Of the 20,000 Germans who marched into Asia Minor, only some 2,000 straggled back to the Bosporus.

The French

Louis VII following hard on the Germans' heels, learned of their shocking defeat and stuck to the recommended coastal route. Conrad attempted to stay with the army, but his wounds were bad and he was evacuated to Constantinople, where Emperor Manuel took personal care of him. This left Louis in nominal command of the entire force of some 15,000 French and the rump of the Germans, another 2,000. In reality, however, he was a weak and ineffectual leader who cared more about prayer than warfare, and he was unable to effectively seize the reigns of power. Decisions about the route of march quickly became a matter of argument by the various lords and and consensus was impossible to come by -- the army was effectively being run by a committee. Worse, they were burdened by thousands of non-combatant pilgrims fed by Louis and slowed by the large entourage of royal ladies accompanying Eleanor, made very poor time indeed. In addition, Louis began to behave in an increasingly eccentric manner, frequently possessed of religious visions and refusing to bathe as a mortification of his flesh.

As the unwieldy column began marching through, the Crusaders came to distrust their Byzantine allies. Price-gouging, poor information and a suspicious (at least to the Franks) willingness to cooperate with local Turks caused a serious rift between the Byzantines and the Crusaders. When the army reached Attalia after hard fighting, they found that their Byzantine guides had deserted them.

Now Louis decided to complete the Journey to the Holy Land by ship. Although most of the lords managed to book passage to Antioch for their households and their horses, the poorer infantry would be forced to march overland, suffering Turkish harrassment all the way. By the time they were reunited with their leaders in early 1148, more than half of the infantry had died en route.

The Council of Acre

After the hardships of the march and sea voyage Antioch, held by the sophisticated Occitan Raymond of Poitiers, seemed like a vision of heaven. Eleanor of Aquitaine in particular enjoyed the company of her uncle so much it was rumoured that an affair was taking place, much to the displeasure of her husband. He quickly decamped with his wife and hurried on to Acre, where the leaders of the Crusade and the Crusader States would hold a council.

When the powerful gathered at Acre they were met with the news that Zengi, whose successful campaign at Edessa had triggered the Crusade, was dead. However his successor, Nur ad-Din, was an even more formidable foe and it looked unlikely that Edessa could be redeemed from the Muslims. Despite this, Melisende had a definite intention to use the large army which she was now required to support. Unfortunately it quickly became apparent that the Western Crusaders had little grasp of the subtle politics of the region, and after much deliberation they set their sights on Damascus... an Islamic ally of the Kingdom of Jerusalem.


By July 24, 1148 the vast Frankish army laid siege to Damascus. Led by Louis, a recovering Conrad and the very young King of Jerusalem, Baldwin III, the army was poorly organized and still lacked a strong leader. Nevertheless, they made a formidable sight and, hardly believing they were being attacked by their own allies, the Damascenes called to Nur ad-Din for help, despite the fact that he had been their greatest enemy in the past. The bonds of faith proved stronger than those of politics and Nur ad-Din came to their aid, placing the Crusaders in a difficult position. Harassed by the Turks they retreated into a region with almost no water, and the various lords began bickering over the division of the city they would almost certainly not be able to capture.

Louis and Baldwin had a falling out over whether or not to continue the siege (Louis was in favour, Baldwin wished to return to Jerusalem) and Louis, in a fit of pique, withdrew. The army, began a disorganized retreat back into Frankish territory with the jubilant Turks trailing them and picking off stragglers. The trust between the lords of the crusade was shattered, and any attempts at reorganizing the force was gone.


When the beaten Frankish army returned to Jerusalem in 1149 the various European lords began making plans to go home. Louis, ever pious, made an extensive tour of the holy sites of the city and then returned to France. The Second Crusade had been a particular disaster for him, as to the whole world witnessed his military ineptitude and he was widely regarded as a cuckold, owing to his flamboyant wife's rumoured indiscretions with her uncle. Indeed, shortly after returning to France the two would have their marriage annulled.

For the Crusader States it was a disaster as well. The betrayal of Damascus proved only to unify the Muslim world in their distrust of the Christian Franks, and laid the groundwork for the rise of Saladin and the fall of Jerusalem some forty years later; Edessa, first of the Crusader States, would never be recaptured. in the short term, the failed campaign brought chaos in its wake: Raymond of Tripoli would be assassinated in Tripoli, which in turn triggered a massacre of the city's Muslim population. Baldwin began a struggle for independence from his mother's rule, attempting to seize sole control over the Kingdom of Jerusalem. And the Western Franks would never again trust the Byzantine Greeks, and indeed began to despise them, which would have serious repercussions during the Fourth Crusade.

See Also

First Crusade | Second Crusade | Third Crusade | Fourth Crusade | Fifth Crusade | Sixth Crusade | Seventh Crusade | Eighth Crusade
Northern Crusades | Albigensian Crusade | Reconquista
Peasants' Crusade | Crusade of the Faint-Hearted